Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct Lee Millhous’ name.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Doylestown is not the oldest church in Pennsylvania – some go back to the 1600s – but it's a longtime survivor. This spring, the congregation is celebrating the building’s 175th anniversary.
Originally a Philadelphia mission church, St. Paul’s organized in the spring of 1846, and the classic stone building, still standing, opened with an Easter service at the corner of South Pine Street and East Oakland Avenue.
The 2023 celebration of the 1848 dedication begins Saturday, April 22, with the unveiling of the time capsule, open house tours and activities and traditional Evensong. A Choral Mass is set for Sunday morning, and a reception will follow the service.
Music, as it has always been in the Anglican church services, is an essential part of the celebration, and the choir is ready. Wendy Brumbaugh has been singing with the junior and senior choirs since she was 10 years old. Her father, Thawley Hayman. a bass, sang in the choir for 50 years, her mother, Mary, with seven children, not so frequently.
All of Wendy’s sisters sang in the choir, her two brothers were acolytes and Wendy’s son and daughter, in a changed world, sang in the children’s choir and both were acolytes.
Wendy lives in Perkasie now but the family grew up in Doylestown, within walking distance of the church. And her father, a county detective, grew up in Doylestown. His father owned the Chevrolet dealership on Main Street.
For more than a hundred years, the church had no loft, the choirs lined up along the altar and faced the congregation. “It was more tense then,” Wendy said, “especially intense in the morning with no breakfast.”
George Achilles is another 50-year member of the choir is George Achilles, who fondly remembers the choir directors. “Over the years, we’ve had some wonderful choir directors,” he said. Eleanor “Dolly” Gross ran choir camps every September at Rehobeth Beach, Del., when she was the organist and choir director. She would introduce new music at the camps to get the members ready for the next season. Eleanor Gross was a founder and music director of the Conservatory of Music, which closed last June.
Choir Director Lee Millhous was a dynamic, disciplined director, George said. Choir director for 20 years, he is known for staging Broadway shows, including “Guys and Dolls,” “The Music Man,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat “and others.
“There was usually a one- or two-piece orchestra to accompany the shows. It was really neat to be in the shows,” George said.
Ed McCall arrived in 2013 and has remained with St. Paul’s. He is also director of Cantus Novus, a 40-voice chamber choir that’s now rehearsing for concerts on the first weekend of May at Trinity Episcopal Church, Solebury, St. Paul’s in Doylestown and Morrisville Presbyterian Church.
“Of all the directors, he’s the most disciplined,” George said. “He never wastes any time.” Both he and Wendy are Cantus Novus members.
It was McCall who shepherded St. Paul’s choir through the coronavirus pandemic during the past three years of online services. “He worked really hard,” Wendy Brumbaugh said.
“He would go and play individual parts. He sent us the voice files so we could learn the music. We’d sing at home without accompaniment to record our voices.”
McCall would mix the voices together to make a final recording so that every week there would be choral music slipped into the live service.
There were a pitfalls to recording at home. “Sometimes a loud truck would go by or a neighbor would start a lawnmower so we’d have to stop the recording and start over. It took a long time, but we learned new skills,” Wendy said.
The church and its choir have weathered the pandemic making the in-person celebration especially meaningful. The choir will ring out with joyful songs for the “demisemiseptcentennial,” Rector Daniel Moore’s name for the event.